From Forty-fourth, I turn right on Fifth. Thirty-three blocks later, I turn right again. Halfway down the block, I am standing in front of the building where my mother met my father sixty-four years ago.Continue Reading...
When I am here by myself, I spend some time hiking to a small hill about halfway around Mirror Lake. It’s called Cobble Hill, and the remains of a long-ago abandoned rope tow can still be found among the woods there.
It’s small compared to the giants that surround Lake Placid. A mere 2331 feet above sea level and exactly three miles from the front porch of our house.
It is one of the many places Kathy and I would visit when she was still healthy enough for long walks. The path passes by a small lake, then climbs through eleven switch-backs to a bald summit with panoramic views of Mount Marcy and its surrounding peaks.
We hiked a lot in the Adirondacks. She liked Panther, tolerated Ampersand and Baker, but did not care for Cascade. She preferred walks that ended at waterfalls.
I do other things to help with my journey away from a terrible summer.
I am slowly working my way through her record collection, playing an album or two while eating dinner or breakfast. She liked Harry Chapin, Billy Joel, and Karen Carpenter. Godspell was her favorite musical.
Other things bring back smiles. Her favorite radio station is still pre-set as the first button on the car stereo. The new furniture that she picked out months ago, finally arrived fourteen weeks too late. I water her plants to keep them healthy, as best I can.
We buried Kathy near Niagara Falls, next to the graves of her father and her brother. I will visit as often as I can. Until then, I will remember her on sunny day walks to the top of a small hill next to a pretty lake just three miles from the front porch.
We were four years old when Paul Simon and his girlfriend started the road trip that would later inspire his song, “America,” and the memorable line that serves as the title to this post.
We met twenty years later and started a journey together that ended when she died today.
I have spent the last few days watching over her as she sleeps. Then, when she is awake, we talk. Sometimes about things we need to do, but mostly about our times together since we first met.
We had been dating for only a few months when she accepted a position with a Baltimore law firm. We got married a year later. Abigail was born a few years after that.
We journeyed through life together, watching school plays, swim meets, and graduations. We spent a lot of time on long walks and especially liked canoeing together.
Sometimes we got lost. Like the time we could not find the exit from an airport parking lot in France, or the time we could not figure out which exit to take to get to my Arlington apartment.
Through it all, Kathy kept us on track and focused on essential things. She was like the red end of the compass needle, always pointing to the right way forward.
Our last days together were hard. The morphine helped with the pain, but it caused her to sleep more and more. When she was awake, we talked, but not about the future. We shared memories instead, like how much fun we had on our recent trip to Lake Placid.
Over the last days, her body slowly wilted away. Towards the end, she used an oxygen compressor to ease her labored breathing. That night, I played soft Irish music on my phone to cover the machine’s hum and pulsing.
I spent some time removing pictures from her work phone and was surprised to find a photo from our wedding many years ago. How young and healthy we were then, unafraid that cancer’s deadly mystery would remain unsolved when we were older.
I treasure our journey together but, like everyone facing the death of a loved one, wish that it had lasted a bit longer.
My faith has never been as strong as Kathy’s, and I am not as confident as she is about what lies ahead. But I am sure that if there is a heaven, Kathy has found her way there.
In the basement of the house where I grew up there were three things my father kept from his service during the Korean Conflict: a duffle bag, his “Eisenhower Jacket” and a garrison cap. I knew he served in the Army and was in Korea during that war, but not much else about his experience/
A cousin recently sent me copies of letters my father wrote to his older brother, Earl. They start with a postcard written on August 22, 1950, while on a train headed to Chicago and track my father’s journey from Chicago to Seattle and then to Anchorage, Japan and Korea.
Here is the story they tell.
The conflict my father was traveling towards started two months earlier, on June 25, 1950, when North Korean forces crossed the 38th Parallel intent on unifying the Korean peninsula under Communist rule. The defense of South Korea fell to the Eighth United States Army, which included “I Corps.” My father’s Signal Corps unit supported the headquarters of I Corps.
The North Korean forces came very close to defeating the Eighth Army, but their advance was stopped at what would become known as the Pusan Perimeter.
Initial attempts by the Eighth Army to launch counteroffensives from that perimeter were unsuccessful and resulted in the loss of thousands of lives on both sides. On the day my father left Chicago, the North Korean forces, still numbering nearly 100,000, began what would be their last attempt to breach the Pusan Perimeter.
Three weeks later, on September 15th, the tide of the conflict turned with the amphibious landing of United Nations forces at Inchon. Seoul was liberated and the North Korean forces retreated allowing I Corps and the remainder of the Eighth Army to advance from the Pusan Perimeter and begin a counteroffensive north of the 38th Parallel.
My father made it to Korea and caught up with the 51st Signal Battalion shortly after the Inchon landing.
By October 20th, his unit had reached Sariwon, North Korea, approximately 36 miles from the North Korean capitol. His letter describes a country totally destroyed by invasion, retreat and counter attack:
As you know I am now taking a fast trip through North Korea, courtesy of I Corps. I thought that South Korea was bad enoughly destroyed, but the Air Force, First Cavalry Division, and Republic of Korea troops did not leave a thing when they went through these towns.
He writes of sleeping outside in a small tent in the fresh air. He complains that the northward advance was moving so fast that the food supplies could not keep up and that there has not been a cigarette ration for ten days. He jokes that he may “have to start smoking the North Korean Luckies” if the American cigarettes do not arrive soon.
Five days later, the Chinese entered the conflict and began driving the UN Forces to the South. Seoul would be recaptured by the Chinese and North Korean troops on January 4, 1951, and remain under enemy occupation until liberated a second time by UN forces on March 14th.
My father’s next letter is written two weeks after the second liberation of Seoul and sent from Yeongdeungpo, a district in the southwest of Seoul. Shortly after this letter is sent, Chinese forces would make one last attempt to recapture Seoul and be held off by Canadian, British and Australian forces who are able to delay the Chinese advance long enough for reinforcements to arrive.
The last letter my father sent is dated June 26, 1951. He is in Uijeonbu on the northern outskirts of Seoul. It is hot and he swims twice a day in the Cheonggyecheon tributary to cool off. His uniform is getting “less and less complete and more like a beachcomber’s than a soldier’s.” He works in a tee shirt and fatigue pants and spends as much time possible in bare feet. In closing he mentions that “[t]he big wonder in the past few days has been the possibility of a cease fire and negotiated peace for Korea.”
The hoped for truce talks would start fourteen days later, but would take two years to result in an armistice.
My father’s letters trace the journey of a young soldier from Ithaca who enlisted in the United States Army in 1948, ended up in the Korean Conflict where he saw first hand the devastation and destruction of war. He never shared with anyone other than his brother the story behind the Eisenhower Jacket, duffle bag and cap that he kept in the basement of the house where I grew up.
It was scheduled for July 24th in New York City.
Guests would come early and spend the night before catching a Broadway show or watching the Yankees play the Red Sox. The ceremony would be held on the shores of the East River on a cool summer evening.
And then the pandemic arrived and changed everything.
The reception has been put off for at least a year, but not the wedding ceremony. That will happen today, with only eight in attendance.
Abby and Adam have been here for two weeks, self-quarantining in our Lake Placid home. Their isolation together is behind them, and a simple ceremony on the shores of Mirror Lake will start nine hours from now. Their close friend will conduct the ceremony, which the three have planned while spending time together in the house where the wedding will be held.
Writing this, I remember my grandfather, a veteran of the first World War who survived the last flu pandemic, eventually married and honeymooned in the Adirondacks, like Abby and Adam will do now. I wrote about that wedding, and the advice he gave to his children, here.
I also recall the closing passage from Love in the Time of Cholera, when Fermina and Florentino, finally married, end up on a river boat carrying passengers infected with cholera. They fly a quarantine flag, perhaps like the one pictured above, and are prohibited from docking at their destination. When asked by the captain what should be done, Florentino responds “Let us keep going, going, going, back to La Dorada.”
This is how the novel ends:
When I finished that novel I never imagined that in my lifetime another pandemic would kill hundreds of thousands like when my grandfather was a little younger than Abby and Adam are now.
But it’s happening again and, like the Captain forced to return to La Dorada, we have no choice but to try to make the best of it.
Which is why my daughter marries the love of her life today and why my wish for her and Adam is that the journey they start today will keep going, going, going and that their life together will have no limits.
These days we measure our lives by the chemotherapy treatments that come every three weeks and blood tests every six weeks or so. Thus far, there has only been good news and we now start our mornings drinking coffee together while reading the newspapers. I still awake at five minutes after five most mornings but she doesn’t join me until the papers are in and the coffee is made.Continue Reading...
On August 1, 1918, brothers Robert and George Marshall along with their guide, Herbert Clark, climbed Whiteface Mountain. Nearly seven years later, on June 10, 1925, the three finished climbing the 46 high peaks of the Adirondacks and became the first three members of “The Adirondack Forty-Sixers.”
It would take another eight years for the fourth person to complete the climbs.
The hundredth person to do so finished in 1955, but more and more hikers join the ranks every year. Last year 735 hikers became 46ers and there will probably be another 800 this year.
Much has changed over the last one hundred years at Whiteface Mountain Now you can drive to the top, and hundreds of people do so on nice weekend days. There is a cafe and gift shop just below the summit and a weather station on top of the mountain overlooking the ski resort carved into the forest below it.
There are bike and snowmobile trails at the base of the mountain and observation decks with binoculars at the top.
In the summer of 2014, I decided to climb the Forty-Six. I started with Porter and Cascade and my plan was to save Whiteface Mountain for last and to finish on August 1, 2018, one hundred years after the first climb by the first of the Forty-Sixers.
When that anniversary came I was in Baltimore sitting next to Kathy as she started a new round of chemotherapy. When you fight cancer you do what can be done. And when someone you love has cancer you do not let her fight it alone.
Which is why on August 25, 2018, brothers Matt and Alex Hoskins, along with me their guide, climbed Whiteface Mountain.
And Kathy met us at the top.
It is three o’clock in the morning when my alarm wakes me. I turn on the stereo in the living room and turn up the volume. Alex is awake before the first song is over. Matt sleeps a little longer, but we are out the door and on the road by three-thirty.
The full moon is still out, but so are the deer, and the trip to the trailhead takes almost two hours. We are the first in the parking lot, but as we sign the trail register two large SUVs arrive. We start our hike to Allen Mountain just as dawn is breaking.
The hike is long. A little more than twenty miles. We start by crossing the Hudson River walking around the shores of small lakes and along and then across the Opalescent River. These trails are easy.
At five and one-half miles the herd path starts and with a little over a mile to go we start the steep climb up and along Allen Brook. We climb until the water stops. Then climb along exposed rock formed after a landslide. Then climb some more. It is very hard work, and the rocks and roots are slippery today.
Today the climb is loud. The SUVs were packed with three families just starting a week’s vacation. They are ten, each apparently given a number. We hear yells behind us of “count off” followed by different voices shouting ten different numbers. Before long they are spread out along the trail. The older kids hike fast and pass us, chatting about the upcoming school year. Another group, slightly younger but trying hard to keep up, pass us too, but they are soon exhausted. They let us go around them but repeatedly yell to their vanguard demanding to know if they are at the top yet. The older ones, sitting at the summit, refused to answer.
We reach the top just before noon but do not stay long. We know it will take us just as long to get down as it has to get up.
And it does.
When I hike with my nephews I teach them three things. How to use a compass, how to read a map and how to make stream water safe to drink.Continue Reading...
The restaurant was crowded and they added a table to the end of a booth to make room.
We had arrived the night before. It was our reunion and it had been forty years since we graduated from the high school in the small town where we grew up.
That town was a factory town. My classmates were the children of the men and women who built the engine magnetos that won the second World War and the electronic parts that helped astronauts land on the moon.
We grew up together in turbulent times. We were too young to understand why our parents cried after learning that President Kennedy had died in Dallas. We were in second grade when Martin Luther King and Bobby were killed.
Jane Roe won her case against Sheriff Henry Wade when we were in seventh grade. Later that year Nixon went to China. He resigned in disgrace before ninth grade began.
The war in Vietnam began before we were in kindergarten. Seven boys died within weeks of each other during the Tet Offensive and the last Americans left Saigon from the roof of the embassy in the spring before we entered high school.
We did what children everywhere did. We finished our homework before bedtime and walked or bused to school. We fretted over braces, pimples, bad hair and clothes that didn’t fit. We worried about the SATs and thought about college, careers and someday getting married and raising families.
Tonight we spoke only of the good times we had shared years ago. Frisbee games and prom dates and dancing to slow music. Messages left on yearbook pages, indoor track records and traveling to Florida with the marching band.
We smiled and laughed and did not cry.
The restaurant was empty when we said goodbye. The dishes were cleared and the extra table was pushed back to where it belonged, removing too soon the last sign of a perfect reunion.
After surgery they make you walk. So we walk.
We’ve been here since Monday, walking and resting and healing in room 11 of Pavilion 4B.
There are three other pavilions on this floor joined by four long corridors. When we walk, we pass all the rooms on 4B and then 4D and 4C before heading back to her room. There is a heavy fire door leading to 4A so we never go that way.
The pavilions are organized by cancer type. 4B is for woman being treated for gynecological cancers. I can’t figure out what is treated on 4C but 4D hits me hard every time we walk there. It is the pavilion for pancreatic cancer, the cancer that killed my father. There are mostly men there, about as old as my father was when he was hospitalized. They walk and rest and heal, just like us.
We walk slow, holding hands, and I remember that when my father was diagnosed I feared that there was nothing that could be done. But his surgery went well and soon he was back home making the best of the extra time he was given.
When Kathy was diagnosed I had the same fear, but again things have gone well.
So today I do not worry about tomorrow. I just walk these halls holding her hand, remembering my father and hoping for the best.
I awake at five minutes after five, walk downstairs and turn up the thermostat. The kettle slowly heats and a few minutes later the coffee is ready.
This is my quiet time when I read digital newspapers and catch up on the Twitter feed as a new day dawns in Baltimore.
This is my alone time, but not today.
Yesterday was Kathy’s eighth chemotherapy session and the steroids they gave her make her feel great. I have just poured my first cup of coffee when I hear her slippers on the staircase.
I pour her a cup and we sit together for a while. It is like it was before and we talk about unimportant things as daylight replaces darkness over the back patio.
At times like these I wish her chemotherapy could last forever. It seems to be working wonders and, at least on Thursday mornings, she looks like she is cured. But it kills the good with the bad and she is steadily losing healthy blood cells. This makes her weaker as each day passes and we are not sure she will be able to complete the last treatment before her surgery.
But for now she is vibrant and healthy and full of hope about getting back to work and back to the way it was before.
We have breakfast and I help her with an injection before leaving for work.
When I return she has changed. The steroids have worn off and she is fatigued from the anemia. She goes to bed early and is asleep before I have finished tucking the blankets around her.
I awake at five minutes after five on Friday, walk downstairs and turn up the thermostat. The kettle slowly heats and a few minutes later the coffee is ready.
This is my quiet time, but I wish it was a Thursday.
When I was a freshman I lived in a dormitory with cinderblock walls, two dressers, two desks and two extra long single beds. My roommate was in Navy ROTC. I was in Army. He quit ROTC at the end of his freshman year. I left Cornell as a Second Lieutenant.
Some college roommates become best friends for life. We did not and I never saw him again after we moved out of that dorm room at the end of spring semester.
My friend for life lived next door and over the next four years we would spend time togehter watching local bands, hiking and swimming in the nearby gorges and sometimes watching the hockey team. He had season tickets and rarely missed a game. I was not a big fan but was always grateful to come along when he had an extra ticket.
We stayed close after graduation. We got married at about the same time. He came to my wedding. I was at his. We raised our families on about the same schedule. We read Harry Potter books to our children when they were young and later bought extra copies of the new releases so that we could keep up as our kids devoured the books within hours after they were publised. We talked about high school issues and college choices and their plans once college was behind them.
He always wrote me a nice letter at Christmas full of news. My card was usually late and didn’t say much.
He was diagnosed with cancer 15 months ago and is now well along the way on his journey with the disease. In December, before we knew that Kathy was also sick, we made plans for a visit during this year’s ECAC hockey tournament that was being held in Lake Placid. We put those plans on hold until last week when Kathy started feeling better.
Kathy and I left Baltimore right after chemotherapy and they arrived the next morning. We spent our time together talking about our kids, our memories and our plans for the future. We shared some nice meals and a little wine. We walked around the lake a bit and continued our conversations in front of the fireplace each night until the last log disappeared into ashes.
He and I went to the game on Friday.
Cornell scored first, but Princeton scored twice in the second and twice more in the third to end Cornell’s tournament run and send hundreds of disappointed “Lynah Faithful” fans back to Ithaca.
We sat next to the band and reminisced about the hockey games we had seen togehter when we were at Cornell. We stood when the band played the Alma Mater and laughed at the new cheers they had invented since the last time we had heard them play.
Being with my friend and seeing how well he has handled his cancer renewed my faith that Kathy’s journey with this terrible disease will also go well.
I’m not sure when the tournament or the Cornell hockey team will return to Lake Placid. But when it does my friend and I will be back again, sitting next to the band and talking about the four wonderful years we spent together “far above Cayuga’s waters.”
When we first arrived at Johns Hopkins Hospital we expected a short consultation and then a return home to await the start of a treatment plan. We left three days later. We started in the outpatient center, spent time in the Weinberg building and were assigned a hospital room in Zayed.
These buildings and many others are connected by a maze of bridges, tunnels, escalators and walkways and I spent much of the first visit wandering around looking for flowers and places to eat .
Since that visit I have walked past the Administration Building dozens of times and today I decided to stop by to visit a statue I knew was there.
It is called Christus Consolator and was donated in 1896 by William Wallace Spence. Since then countless patients and family members have visited this place for solace and inspiration.
Some leave flowers and messages. Others pause to say a prayer or rub the exposed foot for luck. I have nothing to place here today, but hope that those who were here before me did not leave in sorrow.
There are many other placards and markers installed on the walls of the hallways here. One pays tribute to the persons who served in “The Hopkins Units” during the first and second world wars.
Another is much more worn and hard to read. It tells of two sons who died within months of each other, on opposite sides of the world. One was a Marine who died during the battle to take Okinawa. His younger brother served on a bomber and was lost over the English Channel two weeks after D-Day.
Thousands of people walk by this plaque everyday and I hope that at least a few stop to read the story of sacrifice that it tells.
Legend claims that the when Christus Consolator was delivered, the doorman remarked that “Jesus came in through the front door.” Today, I came in from the back door and spent a few minutes thinking about the journey that lies ahead and the people who have been down this path before us.
What started as shortness of breath and weariness, grew worse. Hopes that it was the flu or perhaps pneumonia turned out to be overly optimistic. A visit to the doctor blurred into two hospitalizations, four x-rays, three CAT scans and the diagnosis we feared all along.
Kathy has cancer and we have now begun a journey together that I never imagined we would be taking.
The first chemotherapy session did not go well. The process began with drugs designed to help with nausea. Kathy had an alergic reatction to one of these drugs and the infusion was stopped while she received high doses of antihistamine. Kathy then had a severe reaction to the preservatives in one of the chemotherapy drugs. There were consultations and a suggestion that Kathy go home and start over the next day. Kathy decided to stay and the medicine was titrated so that she could get used to it. We left the hospital nearly twelve hours from when we had walked in earlier in the day.
The next three sessions have gone much better. She is tolerating the medicines well and they are working. The infusions now take only a few hours and Kathy passes the time listening to music and napping on and off. I work on my laptop and watch as others come and go in the treatment room. Some are just starting their battles with cancer, some are very far along. Some come with three or four family members to help them pass the time. Others come alone.
We’ve had to make some changes at home, but they are not drastic. I give her two injections of blood thinner each day and have become pretty good at delivering the medicine with as little pain as possible. Instead of drinking wine and nibbling on cheese, we now share bottles of Vitamin Water and packages of BelVita cookies. Visits to movie theaters and restaurants have given way to watching Netflix together and taking short walks around the neighborhood when the weather is nice.
This week has been filled with only good news. Her blood tests show that the cancer marker has been decreasing steadily and that she is tolerating the chemotherapy well. There are five more to go, followed by a day-long surgery and then another nine weeks of chemotherapy.
Kathy is fighting hard and each day has been better than the day before.
On this journey, that is all that matters.
I decided last year that I would climb the three peaks that make up the Santanoni range as part of a short backpacking trip. That trip fell through and I asked my nephew Alex if he would join me this weekend on the makeup trip.
He came directly from taking his second mid-term exam and we met at a rest stop on I-87 and drove from there to the trailhead. We distributed the camping gear between our backpacks and started our hike to the campsite just beyond Bradley Pond. We arrived with about 30 minutes of daylight remaining and were able to set up camp and have a quick dinner before dark.
It rained overnight and the air was chilly and damp during our entire day in the mountains. We carried a lot of extra gear with us because of the remoteness of the peaks we were climbing and the chance that the weather might turn for the worse. The weight of the packs slowed us down during our ascent up the trail from Bradley Pond to the clearing located in the saddle between Santanoni and Panther.
From there we first hiked to Couchsachraga Peak. Couchsachraga is ancient Algonquin and is translated as “the dismal wilderness.” It is the word that the Algonquins used for the Adirondack Mountains.
The hike to Couchsachraga is deceptively difficult. At 1164 meters it is the shortest of the peaks making up the 46er list. The saddle between Panther and Santanoni is at roughly 1300 meters and the trail to Couchsachraga descends to 1000 meters before a last steep climb to the summit. The hike back to the saddle was the hardest part of the day as we struggled to regain the 300 meters we had lost hiking to Couchsachraga.
The rest of the hike was much easier. We made good time to Santanoni and Panther and headed back to the campsite at 4:00 PM.
As we walked down from Panther we debated whether we should hike out that night or stay until morning. Neither of us had slept well the night before and the freeze-dried meals I had prepared were barely edible. We reached the campsite just before dark, had a some hot chocolate and Cream of Wheat, and decided to head for home. We changed into dry clothes. packed, turned on our headlamps and started for the trailhead.
The trail was quiet and easy to follow because of the reflective trail markers. Although the head lamps limited our vision to just a few feet in front of us, we were able to track our progress by the sounds of the nearby streams that started softly and then grew louder and louder as we reached the valley and the mountain road leading to the parking lot.
It was probably the hardest day I have spent hiking in the Adirondacks thus far. Alex and I spent 14 hours walking 14 miles on wet rocks and slippery roots. We crossed two streams where the bridges had washed away. We were damp and sore and the boots we wore were covered with mud.
We reached three peaks, but saw nothing more than the signs and markers at the summits.
Today I hiked to Rocky Peak Ridge and completed my thirty-ninth summit towards becoming an Adirondack Forty-sixer. I approached from the Roaring Brook trail that leads to Giant Mountain and then hiked out and back to Rocky Peak and descended the same way I had hiked in. I saved a little time by skipping the short detour to the summit of Giant because I had already been there twice before.
The first time was on a cold November day in 2014, when I wore micro spikes and a heavy sweater and found the summit covered with a dusting of snow. The second time was on the backpacking trip I took in September, 2015.
As I merged onto the Ridge Trail I came upon a spot I remembered from that trip.
I was hiking that day with our leader, Hannah, my tent mate Adam and Paula, who was struggling, having just recovered from knee surgery. We started the day on the back side of Giant and our plan was to camp at the opposite base of the mountain at a pond called Giant’s Washbowl.
Paula struggled during the climb, but I was able to help her by supporting the weight of her pack as she scrambled up the rocks to the summit. The climb down was much more difficult for her and, exhausted with a throbbing knee, Paula sank to the ground and started to cry.
We all took off our packs, offered words of encouragement, and waited for our friend’s emotions and fears to run their course.
After a while, Hannah reached into her backpack and produced a chocolate bar. It had been a gift to her from someone she cared a great deal for but who lived too many states away from where she made her home. The wrapper had a message printed on the inside and after she divided the chocolate amongst us, I asked to see the wrapper.
The message printed there was a love poem and I read it aloud in my best impression of a Shakespearean actor. Adam and Paula laughed at my performance and with that we decided to push on to the campsite.
Hannah was very quiet as I read the poem. I handed the wrapper back to her and turned away to struggle into my back pack. As I regained my balance and adjusted the straps I caught a glimpse of her fold the poem and gently place it in her shirt pocket.
Then she smiled.
I started swimming with a Masters swim team in the summer before I turned 50.
Some parents at the swim club where we belonged hired a coach who held three morning practices a week. After that summer I followed the coach to the indoor team she was coaching and I have been swimming year round ever since.
Together my teammates and I have swum up the Hudson River and across the Chesapeake Bay and the mouth of the Potomac and have trained together for Iron Man triathlons and marathons.
This weekend I hosted five of my teammates in Lake Placid where we competed in the annual race along the submerged cable that marks the Iron Man course. They each did fantastic, winning their respective age groups and being awarded the loaf of bread that is traditionally given as the award for first place.
The next day, they agreed to join me on a hike to Mount Colvin and Blake Peak, to bring my total to 38 high peaks summited of the 46 that I am trying to climb by next August 1st.
The day was perfect and we were greeted with a rainbow as we started the hike. The trails were still muddy from the recent rain but the views at Colvin were spectacular and we watched Marcy emerge as the morning clouds lifted away. The hike out and back to Blake was hard because there were several rock faces that needed to be scrambled and our boots and shoes were slippery from the mud. We were pretty tired when we returned to Colvin to finish the food we had brought with us and to even out the water we were carrying.
I suggested that we detour on our way down to visit the Fish Hawk and Indian Head cliffs that overlook the Lower Ausable Lake. When asked how much further it would add to the trip I replied, “just a couple hundred yards more.” The side trip to the cliffs was closer to a mile and included a steep climb that was made even harder by the fact that when we reached it we were already exhausted from ten hours of hiking.
My companions took it in stride and we rested while enjoying the spectacular view of the lake and valley from atop the cliffs before hiking down to Lake Road and back to the car.
Later, while eating pizza for dinner, the conversation turned to my estimation skills. While I had been nearly exact on all of my mileage and time estimates throughout the day, I had missed the estimate to the cliffs by nearly a mile. They joked about it and I am sure I will be teased about this miscalculation for years to come.
It has been nearly seven years since I started swimming and over this time coaches and teammates have come and gone. They have moved on to new jobs and new cities and have been replaced by the new friends with whom I train today. Eventually, the friends I hiked with yesterday will also move away as they build their own families and careers.
And like the swimmers who came before them, I will miss them and remind them as they leave that in life, just as in hiking, something great always awaits us down the trail, just a couple hundred yards more.
Twice before I thought I would climb Mount Skylight. The first time was when I hiked over Marcy to climb Gray and take a swim in Lake Tear of the Clouds. I decided to bypass Skylight that day because my plan was to climb back over Marcy and return to the trailhead the way I had come. I was tired and afraid that the one mile round trip to Skylight would take too long and too much energy.
I hiked over Marcy again last summer, but heard thunder in the distance when I reached the trail to Skylight and, again, decided to leave that hike for another day.
Yesterday I finally made it to the summit.
I left the ADK Heart Lake trail head at 7:17 AM and hiked to Marcy Dam, along th trail towards Avalanche Pass and Lake Golden, then turning uphill to Lake Arnold and Feldspar Brook.
The trails were wet and muddy, as they have been all summer. The bog bridges near the Feldspar lean-to were in bad shape with some sections floating. There was a gap with missing boards, but one board was within reach and I was able to rebuild the bridge without having to wade.
The trail from the lean-to was a steady steep climb passing through 4,000 feet before reaching Lake Tear of the Clouds. The final hike up Skylight was short and relatively easy.
According to legend it will rain if a hiker fails to bring a rock to add to the cairn on the summit. I grabbed a rock, deposited it at the cairn and had lunch enjoying the view of Haystack and Marcy and watching as the hikers who arrived after me stopped at the cairn and deposited the rocks they had carried.
I hiked back the way I came and had not even made it halfway when it started to rain.
The weather in the High Peaks this summer has been dominated by cold rain, high humidity and afternoon thunderstorms. The trails have never really had a chance to dry out since the snow melted and the rocks and exposed roots that are prevalent on the trails are soaked and slippery. The conditions make for very slow hiking, with careful steps and heavy boots coated with mud.
On Tuesday, though, the weather was perfect when I hiked to Cliff Mountain and Mount Redfield from the Adirondack Mountain Club’s Heart Lake trailhead.
I signed in at the trail register at 7 AM and made it to the Feldspar Lean-to by 10:30 AM. A few minutes later I spotted the cairn that marked the start of the “herd path” trail to Redfield. I met a group of teens and their counselor from a nearby summer camp at the summit and visited with them briefly while they finished their lunches.
After leaving Redfield, I turned left at the cairn marking the trail to Cliff. The hike to the summit is relatively short but starts on a flooded trail that leads into scrambles up long and steep rock faces. There’s not much to see at the summit and I headed back home after finishing another sandwich and visiting with a mother and son who arrived at the summit just behind me.
On Thursday I met Andy and Adam at the Noon Mark Diner. We had reservations at the Johns Brook Lodge and planned to stay there through Sunday. Adam and I hiked together two summers ago during a backpacking trip over Giant Mountain and along the Dix range to Elk Lake. He brought his father Andy along on this trip before heading to California to start graduate school.
It started to rain shortly after we signed in at the Garden trailhead register and we were soaked by the time we reached the lodge. We were assigned three bunks in the ten bunk room and spent the evening visiting with the other guests and talking about the hikes they had taken and the ones they hoped to take in the days ahead.
The lodge runs on propane fuel and the electricity generated from four small solar panels, which is stored in car batteries and powers the pumps, filters and chlorination system that sanitize the drinking water drawn from the nearby brook.
A helicopter is used each spring to transport to the property the cylinders of propane used for lighting and cooking and the empty plastic barrels that are used in the latrines. The helicopter returns at the end of the season to retrieve the empty propane tanks and the latrine barrels that have been filled during the summer. Perishable food is backpacked in as needed by the staff who cook the meals, change the latrine barrels and maintain the property.
On Friday we hoped to climb the “Ha-Ba-Sa,” by first hiking over Little Haystack to Haystack before backtracking to summit Basin and then Saddleback by climbing up the Saddleback Cliffs.
The trails were wet and muddy from the rain the day before and it took us much longer than estimated to reach Haystack. We waited to watch the clouds lift and reveal Mount Marcy to us for the first time during our trip.
Dark clouds were forming on the horizon when we left Haystack and thunder followed a short time later. Rather than push on and risk finishing after dark we decided to turn back for the lodge and to return on Saturday to pick up where we had left off.
Unfortunately, it started to pour shortly after dinner and it rained steadily into the next morning. By the time we awoke the trails were drenched and too slippery for hiking so we decided to leave Basin and Saddleback for another day, cut our trip short and hike out to our cars.
I had planned to hike to three peaks during the visit to the lodge, but settled for only one. And while some could say that the trip was a washout, one of the lessons I’ve learned along the way on this journey is that the mountains will be here forever and it is okay to leave a summit for another day. Especially because there is nothing more spectacular than to be on the top of New York after the clouds have lifted away.
Bryce, Julie, Aleah and I left Lake Placid on Thursday at 6:45 AM to hike along Lower Ausable Lake to Sawteeth Mountain and then over Pyramid Peak to Gothics Mountain. It had been nearly a year since my last hike in the High Peaks and despite my efforts to keep in shape by biking, taking long walks and skipping the elevator whenever possible, Thursday’s hike was hard.
We chose the “Scenic Trail” to Gothics and saw spectacular views as we climbed out of valley. Unfortunately the trail is very steep at first, with almost a mile and a half of constant climbing before easing a bit, and I was exhausted by the time we reached to intersection with the trail to Marble Point.
We stopped at the Sawteeth summit for a few minutes before continuing on the Pyramid Peak, a little less than a mile away. I felt fine as we descended into the col between the peaks but found the climb to Pyramid very difficult. It was hot and humid and I could not keep up with my hiking companions.
Upon reaching Gothics, I finished my lunch and saw in the distance Big Slide Mountain, which I had hiked to three years ago with other friends.
When I decided to climb the high peaks, I climbed the first two peaks alone. Then, on August 30, 2014, two friends joined me on a hike to Big Slide. When we reached the summit that day I took this picture and showed them how to orient a map with a compass and to use it to help us identify the peaks across the valley.
I remember wondering then when I would be on the other side of the valley looking back at Big Slide.
Thursday was that day and I am a bit sad because I have not seen the friends who were with me on Big Slide in a long time. The swimming pool where we first met was torn down to make way for a parking garage and we have each moved on, heading in different directions, focused on other things. When it is time to leave Gothics, I am the last off the summit, pausing to take one last look at Big Slide.
I returned on Saturday, with a larger group, to hike up the opposite side of the valley to Dial and Nippletop mountains.
I have hiked with this group twice before. Our first hike together was to Grace Peak and last year we hiked to Pitchoff Mountain one day and over Mount Marcy the next.
Everyone in the group has an Iron Man Lake Placid connection. Three of us competed in the 2014 race and regularly share stories of our experiences finishing the swim in the middle of a lightning storm before biking into the Keene valley with water sheeting across the road. Others in the group completed the race in different years or came to cheer on friends and family members.
For Saturday’s hike, we chose an approach that was gradual on the climb up but very steep on the descent. Although this made for a slow return to the trailhead from the summit of Nippletop, we were all less tired when we finished than we would have been had we hiked in the opposite direction.
With these four hikes complete, I have only 14 more to go to meet my goal of becoming a 46r on August 1, 2018.
Every hike has been difficult but I have loved them all. And although I have lost touch with some who have joined me on this journey, I will never forget the friendship they showed me along the way.
Jim Davidson was in charge of the waterfront and taught me the importance of the buddy system and other lifesaving skills. He also taught the canoeing merit badge class. He showed us how to use the paddles in a way that two people pulling on opposite sides of the boat could work together and travel in a straight line. Most importantly he taught us the importance of life jackets and how to help other boaters in trouble.
I loved that camp and spent my high school summers working as a member of the Crumhorn staff, first teaching basic camping skills, then in my last years before college working for Jim at the waterfront.
Two years ago, my nephew Alex asked me to partner with him for the 70 mile endurance race from Cooperstown to Bainbridge. Last year I raced a second time with his brother Tom and this year it was Matt’s turn. Three brothers, three regattas. That was the promise I made in 2015.
Every year at the canoe regatta has been different. With Alex the water was extremely low but the weather was beautiful. Tom‘s year, the water was higher, but so were the temperature and the humidity. This year it rained almost the entire time Matt and I were on the river and the water was high and fast moving. The starting point was moved a few miles up Otsego Lake and by the time we reached the river inlet our boat was already filled with a few inches of water. We would have to empty the rain water from it several times during the race.
Matt and I paddled well together with little wasted effort and were on schedule to meet the cut off times: Milford’s bridge by 9:30, the Oneonta south side dam portage by 1:00; Wells Bridge by 4:30 and reach the finish line before 8:00.
We capsized once at a tricky turn under a railroad trestle. The water was deep and cold but our life jackets kept us afloat as we struggled in our rain jackets and long pants to swim the canoe to shore. We lost some time getting around that turn and made the first checkpoint with only 15 minutes to spare.
We lost a little more time getting to the second checkpoint and probably were a bit late, but we made up the time and reached Wells Bridge ahead of schedule.
The rain stopped but the river was moving very fast in parts. As we rounded a bend just upstream from Unadilla, Matt and I saw a paddler clinging to a limb from a tree that had fallen in the middle of some rapids. We canoed by him and stopped at the shore where the water slowed. His kayak was wrapped around a submerged log and destroyed. His life jacket, tied to the seat of his boat, was underwater and unreachable. His name was John and he was a bit shaken as he stood on his mangled kayak holding on to the tree branch that had destroyed it.
I took my paddle and waded as close as possible to John and the tree branch. We spoke a bit and he agreed to let go and let the river carry him. He slumped into the water and started to rush by me. I reached my paddle to him, just as Jim Davidson taught me years before. John grabbed it and I pulled him out of the current and we walked to the shore together. He thanked us and called his wife for a lift back to Bainbridge.
Matt and I headed back downstream, found John’s paddle a few hundred yards away and crossed the finish line with about ten minutes to spare.
As we loaded the canoe on the car top, I remembered that when I started this blog I first wrote about another lesson I learned at Crumhorn. As I get older I realize more and more just how much I learned during the summers I worked there. Scouting taught me to respect both the beauty and the dangers of nature and not to be afraid to take action to help others. I put those lessons to good use late yesterday afternoon standing in the middle of the Susquehanna with a canoe paddle in my hand.
It was another rewarding day on the river and I extend my sincerest thanks to Matt, Tommy and Alex for spending three long Memorial Days canoeing with me from Cooperstown to Bainbridge, and to their parents and their friends who cheered us at every boat launch and bridge along the way.
I had a blast with you guys and will never forget our adventures together.
On February 7, 1964, The Beatles landed at JFK Airport, bringing “Beatlemania” to America.
Five hundred and seventy-seven miles away, a recently retired Professor of Rural Education wrote the following letter to his three grown children, who were each married and raising young families of their own:
Sometimes we wonder about the “Best Years of Our Lives.”
Nearly forty years have passed since your mother and I (long engaged) decided that we had waited “long enough” and it was time to establish a home and a family (God willing). Money was borrowed for a wedding trip and we started for Fourth Lake, August 1924. One of the excursions, while there, by boat and single-gauge R.R., was an all-day trip to Blue Mountain which we reached mid-day. We climbed to the very top of the tower to view that wonderful vista of the North.
No doubt our thoughts turned to wondering about the years that we might have together; the home we might establish; the children we might bring forth into this world; and their future success, as well as our own. World War I had been fought and the world was safe for Democracy. I had been forewarned at Cornell by Old Jimmie Rice of the three great decisions, namely: What to do? Where to Locate? Who to Marry? All three were quite well determined by 1924; the last one was right at hand.
Perhaps, it was well that we did not know, in advance, which years might be the “Golden Years,” or the “Best Years of Our Lives.” In time we needed to look back to realize that they were the years when we were struggling to furnish homes (rented 10 years); to pay for a home; to keep our little family well, happy and comfortable; to give them educational advantages, social advantages, travel and other basic values in life that were so abundant in an educational center like Ithaca.
Still later, the scenes changed and we realized that childhood days had passed or were passing rapidly and that our little “family circle” was not the same.
When did we cease tucking them into beds and announcing “bed time” for all?
When did we read the last bed-time stories from Book House?
When did we have the last Sunday morning romp on the big bed? When did we cease going to church together?
When were the Thanksgiving and Christmas trips to Grandmother’s house over?
When did we cease going to Aunt Irene’s and Aunt Hattie’s house together?
When did we cease our Canadian trips, crossing at Clayton on the ferry?
When was our last family picnic at Flat Rocks or Taughannock Falls?
When did the family cease to enjoy long trips together?
When did the approval of companions become more important than the approval of parents?
Perhaps this is enough to cause you and your life companion to consider the values in life that you are being awarded now in 1964. Please do not think it may be easier in a few years when there are fewer debts, problems and worries, or less work.
Enjoy the “Best Years” of your lives while your little group is a unit and your children think of you as the greatest of all Moms and Dads; whose joint decisions are all important to them.
No doubt, you have heard the story of “Acres of Diamonds,” and how the Pilgrim searched the world over to find them. He finally found them in his own back yard.
Love to all,
The author was my grandfather, Edwin Ray Hoskins. He sent this letter to his three children: Earl, Angie and Paul. Paul was my father. My uncle Earl died last year and his daughter found this letter among his papers.
I never asked my grandfather what he thought of the Beatles or the Civil Rights movement or the protests of the Vietnam War. He had retired in 1962 and did not experience how these events changed the students that followed behind him at Cornell. Perhaps unfairly, I always thought he was a bit too old fashioned, too conservative and way behind the times.
But, in truth, the advice he shared in 1964 is as valid and important today as it was on that day in 1964 when Pan Am Clipper flight 101 from London Heathrow touched down at JFK.
My nephew Alex is in his senior year and he and his best friends are in the middle of a football playoff run. Nate and Alex both play receiver on offense and corner back on defense. Alex also serves as the punter and Nate returns kicks for the team. Colin is a lineman and Kyle, a star on the basketball team, serves as the unofficial mascot so that he can watch the games from the sidelines. They visited me in Lake Placid last summer and we climbed Seymour mountain and kayaked through the upper lock to visit Middle Saranac Lake. I asked about the upcoming football season during their visit and sensed that they did not expect the team to do well this year.
Football is big in the small village where I grew up and on game days there is no one more proud, or nervous, than the mother of a varsity team player. They belong to the “Grid Iron Mom” club and wear t-shirts with their son’s numbers embroidered on the shoulders. They make pictures of their sons wearing football uniforms into small lawn signs and serve spaghetti at team dinners on the night before every game. Today they left town before the team did so they could hang good luck signs on an overpass and wave to the team bus as it passed below them on the interstate.
The team struggled early in the season and made the playoffs as the bottom seed after a four win and three loss regular season. They were expected to lose badly last week against the top seed but they played their best game of the year and won convincingly on a cold and rainy night in Greene.
I had business in New York this week and decided to delay my trip back to Baltimore so I could watch today’s game. I arrived in Sidney late yesterday only to learn that the game might not be played. The other team, Harpursville-Afton, had played all season with an ineligible player and been disqualified after admitting the infraction. An appeal was pending and late yesterday the disqualification was overturned to the dismay of many of the football mothers, my sister-in-law included.
The game started at 3 this afternoon and was played at a neutral field in Endicott, about an hour’s drive from Sidney. After the coin toss, Sidney received the opening kickoff. Alex caught the first pass of the day and Nate caught the second for a large gain. Quarterback Darren Smith’s third pass was thrown under pressure, intercepted and returned 80 yards for a touchdown. He kept his cool, though, and would end the game with 28 completions for 445 passing yards, probably a school record.
On their next possession Sidney moved 63 yards down the field on long pass plays but was stopped on the 2 yard line. Harpursville-Afton’s next drive started well, but Colin made a key stop and Sidney was back on offense. Harpursville-Afton had no answer for the Sidney passing game and Alex, Nate and the other receivers made long gains before Sidney’s second drive was stopped at the 12 yard line. The first quarter ended with Sidney trailing 6 to zero.
Sidney finally scored on its second possession of the second quarter after a 59 yard screen pass play to Alex brought Sidney to the one yard line. Sidney scored on the next play and with 6:19 left in the first half the score was tied, 6 to 6.
Sidney almost always attempts an onside kick. It usually doesn’t work and today’s first attempt also failed but the Sidney defense made up for it. The opposing quarterback was pressured on third and long and intercepted. Sidney scored three plays later on a 46 yard touchdown pass. The two point conversion attempt failed but, with 5:09 left in the first half, Sidney took its first lead, 12 to 6.
Sidney’s second onside kick worked but the drive ended with another interception on a long 4th down pass. Harpursville-Afton scored three plays later to take a 13 to 12 lead at the end of the first half.
Harpursville-Afton started the second half with a dominating run game, driving 75 years to score again and extend the lead to 8 points. Harpursville-Afton’s attempt at an onside kick failed and Sidney answered by driving down the field with pass plays before scoring on a trick play with five minutes and forty-six seconds left in the third quarter.
Another Sidney attempt at an onside kick failed, but two plays later Alex intercepted a pass to end the Harpursville-Afton threat. Sidney’s first play from scrimmage was a twenty-five yard pass to the 19 yard line. Another pass brought Sidney to the one yard line. Sidney took the lead on the next play, having scored 16 unanswered points in just over three minutes. Harpursville-Afton did not give up and tied the game again on its next possession. But Sidney returned the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown as time expired ending the third quarter.
The fourth quarter started with Sidney leading 34 to 28 but unable to recover an onside kick attempt. Harpursville-Afton fumbled again and Sidney failed to score on a fourth down play. There were seven minutes and twelve seconds remaining when Harpursville-Afton took over but another fumble put Sidney back on offense with less than five minutes remaining.
A 30 yard pass to Alex brought Sidney to the 20 yard line. Three minutes remained in the game. A play later Sidney was at the 2 yard line with a first down, goal to go. Harpursville-Afton refused to let Sidney score and seal the game and took over after four failed attempts by Sidney to advance the ball beyond the goal line. Harpursville-Afton had no time-outs remaining, and 95 yards to go with 65 seconds left in the game. After a long run by their quarterback they were at the Sidney 32 yard line. There were 22 seconds left. Another long run brought them to the 5 yard line with 8.2 seconds remaining. Though it seemed certain they would score, somehow they were stopped short on the next play and the clock counted down to zero with Sidney still ahead, 34 to 28. The moms in the Sidney stands went wild.
Alex finished the game with twelve catches for 179 yards, a pretty long punt and an interception and a fumble recovery. Nate had four long catches for 47 yards and some nice kickoff returns. Colin and the other lineman protected their quarterback well throughout the game and on defense stopped the run when it mattered most. It was a great game and I am glad I was able to be here to watch Alex and his friends play so well together.
I will leave it to others to debate whether or not Harpursville-Afton should have been allowed to play today. “Rules are rules,” after all, and in fairness normally should be enforced. I suspect however that when they look back on this game many years from now, those who played in it will be glad that the team from Harpursville-Afton was allowed to compete and that Sidney made it to the finals by winning the game and not by way of a forfeit. They settled it on the field today and the better team won.
Best of luck next week Alex, Nate, Colin and Kyle and remember, above all else, to have fun and enjoy the game.
I spent last week in the woods with eleven alumni and instructors from the National Outdoor Leadership School. We were on a service trip and our assignment was to repair the suspension bridge where the Northville-Placid Trail crosses Moose Creek.
We started on Sunday morning when we were divided into cook groups. I was teamed with Ed and Haley, two very experienced and energetic backpackers. Our group clicked immediately and worked well together all week. I usually made breakfast and helped with the cleanup for the rest of the meals. They cooked delicious dinners and made sure we had enough to eat for lunch. When it started to rain hard one evening, Ed found the leaks in the tent and we rearranged our sleeping bags to keep dry. During a hike along the Cold River on Wednesday, Haley entertained us with riddles and stories about her previous back packing trips.
The original plan had been to replace only the decking of the suspension bridge. Once the old boards were removed the plan evolved into replacing the stringers that supported the deck boards and also rebuilding the ramp leading to the bridge from the northern shore. We also improved the nearby trails by cutting down brush and installing new fence posts to replace the ones that had been damaged by bears.
The work was hard. The lumber needed for the project had been dropped by a helicopter upstream of the bridge and I spent most of the first two days carrying it to where it was needed, sometimes wading across the creek with a board balanced on my shoulders. Others from the group removed the old decking and sawed the large 2 by 6 inch boards into three-foot lengths for the deck. Still others fabricated and installed the new stringers, posts and braces needed to support the deck. Because we were in a wilderness area chain saws were not permitted and all of the cutting was done with hand saws.
We broke camp before sunrise on Saturday and crossed the bridge for the last time just as the dawn was breaking.
I have hiked in the Dix Mountain Wilderness twice before but managed to climb only three of the five high peaks located there.
On the first trip the plan had been to climb all five, starting at Grace and ending at Dix. Our group was overconfident and underprepared and we turned back after reaching Grace too late in the day to try for the others.
Last fall, I backpacked over Dix Mountain but could not find the herd path leading from the Beck-horn to Hough Peak and South Dix. The next day we climbed Macomb but decided not to push on to South Dix and Hough.
Today, my nephew Josh and I reached the two peaks I had left behind twice before.
We began our hike from the Elk Lake trail head at 7:00 AM. We reached the herd path that follows the Lillian Brook at 8:21 and found the trail to the summit to be in very good condition making for an easy climb. We reached Hough Peak at 10:30, backtracked to South Dix and finished the hike at 2:30 PM.
These two bring my total to 28.
Several months ago my nephew Josh texted me to ask whether he could spend his vacation hiking in the Adirondacks. We agreed on a date and convinced my nephew Alex to bring some friends and join us.
Josh and I arrived on Saturday and our plan was to wake early Sunday and climb the three peaks that make up the Seward Mountain Range. The weather report indicated that there was a small chance of rain and we thought that at worst it would rain in the morning before clearing later in the day.
We left Lake Placid at 6:00 AM and started the hike at 7:00, but at the wrong trail head. We recognized the mistake after about a mile and turned back, found the right parking lot and started for Mount Donaldson at 8:00 AM.
There are three mountains in the range. The northern most is named for William Henry Seward, Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of State. The middle mountain is named for Alfred Lee Donaldson who wrote a history of the Adirondacks and the southern peak is named for Ebenezer Emmons who, while serving as the state geologist, was part of the expedition that made the first ascent of Mt Marcy in 1837.
We reached the herd path to Donaldson at about 10 and reached the top of Donaldson at 12:30. We spent the next two hours hiking to the summits of Mt. Emmons and Seward Mountain before returning Donaldson and backtracking to the trailhead.
Our hopes for clearing weather never came to pass and we spent the day hiking in a constant drizzle and had to pour water from our boots after the last stream crossing. We finished the hike just before 6.
Alex and his friends Nate, Kyle and Collin were waiting for us at the house when we returned to Lake Placid.
The weather was sunny and not too humid but the trail was still muddy from the rain earlier in the week. The climb was challenging with lots of steep rock scampers along the way. We reached to summit at about 1:00 PM and ate a quick lunch before heading down.
During the hike I taught them some of the lessons I learned from Oscar and Hannah last fall, like how to orient a map and use a compass and how to make water from the streams safe to drink.
My companions are strong athletes and team players. They offer a hand to help with steep climbs and they guard each other against falls during the descent through steep and wet terrain. They share their water and food and work together to find the solution when I stop along the route to challenge them to “Tell me precisely where we are on this map.”
The climb down from the summit took nearly as long as the climb up and we were already very tired when we rejoined the Ward Brook trail to start the four mile hike back to the trailhead. I kept to my regular pace but they were anxious to be off the trail and away from the mosquitos that joined us as we passed by Blueberry Pond. I am not concerned. They have proven that they can find themselves in these woods and work together to solve problems and take care of each other.
I let them go and finish this journey in solitude.
We bought the station wagon in 2003 and gave it to Abby last week. Today she loaded it with a bicycle, her guitar and some clothes, waved goodbye and started a cross-country road trip to Berkeley for graduate school.
Over the last thirteen years I have driven that car to hundreds of swim practices and meets and to camping trips and birthday parties with her friends. Every summer we drove it to the Adirondacks, often listening to Jim Dale read aloud the seven book story of Harry and Ron and Hermione.
When Abby went away to high school I drove it to visit her, sometimes twice a week during swimming and water polo seasons. One Christmas her present to me was five hours of music on CDs to keep me company during those long drives. When she graduated we drove it to a music festival in Tennessee and camped behind it for three very hot days and muggy nights.
After Abby moved to Chicago for college most of my trips in the station wagon involved swimming events with new friends. I drove it to open water swims in Ocean City and New York and to Lake Placid to hike and ski with friends. It carried my bike to the Iron Man and my canoe to Cooperstown.
But of all these travels, I cherish most the memories of the times when Abby was younger and we would stop at the Knoebels amusement park on our way home from visiting my mother as her health deteriorated.
It was about halfway and Abby loved riding the two wooden roller coasters there. On nice summer days we would spend a few hours riding the Phoenix and the Twister and maybe take a swim in the large swimming pool before grabbing a quick meal and finishing the rest of the drive. It was the perfect remedy to help us feel better no matter how sad our visit had left us.
Abby is now on her way to Berkeley driving the station wagon we bought in 2003. I love the memories made in that car and I’m not sure when I’ll replace it. But when I do I’ll be sure to find my way back to Knoebels Grove to ride the roller coasters and maybe swim a while in the large pool there.
Memorial Day has always been a special holiday in Sidney. My sisters, brother and I grew up marching in the annual parade in our Boy Scout and Girl Scout uniforms. We would start at the Prospect Hill Cemetery. From there we marched down the hill, across the railroad tracks, past a sandwich shop and along Main Street to a flagpole in front of the village Post Office for a wreath laying ceremony. After the parade we’d visit the Regatta grounds for one last day of carnival rides and food before heading back to school on Tuesday.
This Memorial Day weekend Sidney dedicated its newly finished memorial park to veterans. I didn’t make it in time for the opening ceremony but visited it with Tommy and Matt before heading to Cooperstown for the start of this year’s 70 mile endurance race.
I spend most of my visit studying the memorial to the veterans from my high school and learn that the American Legion Post my father belonged to was named for Charles Jacobi who was killed during the First World War and that two brothers, Kenneth and Douglas Keller, lost their lives during the Second. I cannot imagine how devastating that must have been to their parents and classmates.
Then I read the nine names on the Vietnam plaque. Seven of these veterans grew up in a small nearby town called Sidney Center. At the time it had a population of about 500 and in a period of less than 90 days seven families received visits notifying them that their sons had been killed. I did not know them or their families but you can read about them here, and you should.
While studying the plaque I remember what it was like to grow up during that conflict. I was not yet 4 years old when Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that authorized the use of conventional military force in Southeast Asia. I was 7 when 70,000 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops began the Tet Offensive, the battle that would take the lives of the seven young men from Sidney Center.
Woodstock would take place 70 miles from the house where I grew up, during the summer before I turned 9. My friend Sandy, who lived in Sidney Center, would later wear a POW Bracelet. The war would end and Saigon would fall before I graduated and that is why, thankfully, none of my classmates’ names are on that wall.
I spend the rest of the day preparing for Monday’s race and watching Alex and his friend compete in the 15 mile sprint race. On race day we are a little behind schedule getting to the start line and in the rush I drop my sunglasses into Otsego Lake. I try to scoop them with my paddle but it doesn’t work and I watch the glasses that I was wearing when I crashed badly on my bike and when I crossed the finish line of the Lake Placid Iron Man sink slowly away.
The race was grueling, as I suppose it always is. It was hot and humid in the morning and then it rained when we had about 12 miles to go. Tommy worked hard all day and our paddling was evenly balanced and efficient. We made it through the most challenging sections of the river without any problem but flipped later after misjudging any easy rapid just south of Wells Bridge. The heat took its toll and the first half of the race went much slower than last year. We were faster below Oneonta and finished just a few minutes behind last year’s time.
I leave Sidney early Tuesday and pass through downtown. It looks much different than it did in the 1970s. I drive down the hill and across the railroad tracks and remember that when the ceasefire was declared in 1972 the sandwich shop located there changed the letters on its outdoor sign to read “Peace – Thank God” and how relieved everyone in Sidney was that the Vietnam war was coming to an end.
I stop at the newly repaired traffic light and then cross over the river on my way out of town. I am a bit sore and glad to leave the river behind me. But more than anything, I am proud that the tiny village where I grew up has built such a fitting memorial to the nine Sidney graduates who did not live to see the message on the sandwich shop sign at the bottom of the hill across the railroad tracks.
Last week I left my iPhone in the car, picked up a backpack and spent nine days hiking through the Adirondacks with nine people I first met at an ice breaker where we were each asked to perform a favorite dance move. This is the story of that journey.
After the dance move introduction, which did not go particularly well for me, our group of ten assembled in a field and spread out all of the clothes and gear we had brought. Our instructors, Hannah and Oscar, visited with each of us and gave us suggestions on what to bring and what to leave behind.
We were then organized into three-person tent groups and four-person cooking teams. Our food ration was 1.6 pounds per person per day. The food and gear were equitably distributed and I started the trip with a pack that weighed almost 57 pounds.
My tent-mates were Adam and Aaron. Adam is an aspiring writer and Internet entrepreneur with a razor-sharp wit who really knows how to tell a good joke. Aaron, an Episcopalian minister, is one of the most thoughtful and considerate persons I have ever met. If Jesus were a backpacker I think he would be a lot like Aaron.
For our cook group, Aaron and I were paired with Jenny and Christina. Jenny recently retired after a successful business career. She is a strong hiker and a great cook and conversationalist with a very effective leadership style. Christina is a fashion designer and endurance athlete. She was the strongest hiker in our group and never stopped smiling throughout the entire trip.
On the first evening we hiked about a mile to our campsite where we were taught how to set up the tents and how to construct a “bear hang” to keep our food safely out of reach of animals looking for a late night snack.
It is dark in the Adirondacks and I learned many valuable lessons that night. First, tent site selection is critical. I awoke on the second morning a little sore after spending the night with a large root beneath my neck. Second, be sure to remember where you have left your headlamp. When it started to rain in the middle of the night and we needed to scramble to keep things dry I could not find it when it was most needed. And finally, leave a light on in the tent to help you find your way back should you take a walk into the dark woods in the middle of the night. I thought I knew where I was until I turned to walk back to the tent and realized that nothing looked at all familiar. I stumbled around a bit before finding our tent, grateful that I had not followed up my embarrassing dance performance by getting lost in the woods on the first day.
On the second morning we learned the proper way to light our camp stoves. Unfortunately this lesson came a few minutes after I had already set a large boulder on fire after failing to connect the gas canister correctly.
On the third day we were up early for our first challenging hike up and over Giant Mountain to a campsite along the shores of a small lake called the Giant Washbowl. My hiking group for the day included two members of the other cooking group, one having just finished rehabilitating from serious knee surgery. The other strained her knee during the steep descent and our group would struggle for nearly seven hours to complete the 3.9 mile hike. Along the way Hannah displayed amazing character and leadership as she motivated all of us to finish the hike.
We rested the next day and spent it learning more skills and swimming in the nearby lake.
On our fifth day we hiked nearly seven miles, visiting the Roaring Brook waterfall before hiking along the Old Dix Trail to another lean-to.
Yom Kippur started at sunset and Adam could not eat during the holiday. Oscar decided to keep him company and the two spent the sixth day of our journey fasting together. While Oscar and Adam were fasting I hiked to Noonmark Mountain with Hannah, Christina, Aaron, and Jenny. At the summit we made coffee and cooked ramen noodles which we ate while using a map and compass to identify the nearby mountain peaks.
After we returned to the lean-to Adam asked me to forgive him for anything he had done to hurt me over the few short days I had known him. I was deeply touched by his gesture and could not find the right words to say before turning away so that he would not see me wipe away a tear.
Each day our skills improved. We always looked out for each other while hiking, calling out when we saw loose rocks or exposed roots on the trail. Other than that I usually hiked in silence, listening as my companions shared their life stories with each other.
On Friday Oscar, Aaron, Adam, Jenny, Christina and I backpacked over Dix Mountain, pausing for lunch and pictures at the base of the Beck-horn.
The next day I hiked with Hannah and another small group to the top of Macomb Mountain, bringing my current total of high peaks summited to twenty-two.
We finished our trip early Sunday morning and said our goodbyes later that day.
Over the nine days we spent together we hiked just shy of thirty miles, climbed four mountains and learned how to survive and thrive in the wilderness while carrying everything we needed on our backs. We learned how to read maps and use compasses and how to transform basic food staples like beans and rice and flour into meals that would get us through the day. We ate out of plastic bowls with spoons and drank our coffee and hot chocolate out of Nalgene bottles. We found our water in the brooks and ponds we hiked past and made it safe to drink by using chemicals we carried in our pockets. I lost a little weight, grew a bit of a beard and met amazing people whose friendships I will cherish for the rest of my life.
Last week I left my iPhone in the car, picked up a backpack and spent nine days hiking through the Adirondacks with nine people I first met at an ice breaker where we were each asked to perform a favorite dance move. Along the way I witnessed exceptional displays of leadership and compassion and ate rehydrated potatoes cooked over a camp stove in a frying pan.
They were the most rewarding days I have yet to spend in the Adirondacks and the mashed potatoes really were the best I have ever had.
Kathy, Abby and I started coming to the Adirondacks in 1997. Abby took her first sailboat and paddle boat rides on Upper Saranac Lake and learned how to paddle a canoe there as well, a skill that came in handy that time I rented a power boat and ran out of gas two miles from the marina.
We came almost every summer and always spent a part of our vacation hiking. I bought every book I could find about the trails in the Adirondacks and tried to pick out hikes suitable for Abby as she grew from a toddler into a teenager. One of the first hikes we took together was to Rocky Falls. Here’s the description of the hike in Guide To Adirondack Trails:
Rocky Falls—4.8 mile round trip. An easy walk along the start of the Indian Pass Trail to an attractive little series of waterfalls and large pool for swimming.
The weather was a bit iffy when we started our hike to the falls but we brought rain jackets just in case there was a brief shower. We followed the trail but it had been a dry summer and when we reached the brook there didn’t seem to be anything that looked like a waterfall or a pool large enough for swimming.
We turned back, not sure whether we’d actually found the falls and then it started to rain. Hard. The next two miles were miserable and the rain soon overpowered our jackets and soaked us to the skin.
To get us through it we played a game that Abby had invented. It was basically a variation of “20 Questions” with the goal to try to guess a character from the Harry Potter books. Abby was amazing at the game. I could never stump her when it was my turn to pick a character. When Abby picked, Kathy and I would often ask dozen of questions before giving up to learn of some minor wizard that was briefly mentioned in the middle of The Prisoner of Azkaban. It was a fun game and it came in handy to help pass the time on our family hikes.
Today, I decided to return to Rocky Falls on my way to Mount Marshall. I left the Adirondack Loj parking lot at 6:25 AM and reached the falls at 7:17. There was plenty of water and what I saw today matched exactly the description I first read eighteen years ago.
The remainder of the hike to Mount Marshall was hard. Most hikers approach it from the camp sites to the southeast of the mountain. I took the longer route and approached from the northwest first climbing to Cold Brook Pass before taking the shorter but much steeper unmarked path to Marshall.
By the time I reached the summit at 11:27, the temperature had risen to 80 degrees and it was very humid. I was a bit dehydrated from the climb and regretted not stopping on the way up to top off my water bottles. It was a long, hot trip back to the parking lot but I finished the 17 miles in just under ten hours.
There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and no need to rely on The Harry Potter Guessing Game to get me through the last few miles. I played it anyways, making a list of the characters to use on my next hike with Kathy and Abby.
Today I hiked to Nye Mountain and Street Mountain, my 18th and 19th peaks on the way to 46. The hike was straight-forward and not that difficult. I left the parking lot at 8:47 AM, reached Nye at 11:00, had lunch on Street and was back to the car a few minutes after 2:00 PM.
Both peaks are covered with trees and the views are not as spectacular as the views from other nearby peaks. On the way down I catch a glimpse of Heart Lake and remember the story about how it got its name.
According to the legend Henry Van Hovenberg left New York City in 1877 and visited the Adirondacks. He met a young woman, Josephine Scofield, and together they climbed Mount Marcy where he pledged his love to her. Looking out at the valley below them they saw a heart-shaped lake and decided that they would marry and build their home on its shores.
They returned to New York City together before Josephine left for a trip Toronto. On her way she stopped outside of Buffalo and was never seen again after taking a walk to the edge of the Horseshoe Falls.
Heartbroken, Henry returned to the Adirondacks in 1878, bought the 640 acres around the lake and built a hotel where he had planned to build his home with Josephine. He renamed the lake Heart Lake and a nearby mountain Mount Jo in honor of Josephine.
Recent attempts to verify this story have failed and many people now believe that Henry made up the whole thing as a marketing ploy to romanticize his hotel.
Even though there probably never was a Josephine, I suspect that at least once in the last 138 years a man and a woman hiked together to Mount Marcy and fell in love while looking down at Heart Lake and the beauty spread out before them. That is the true story of Henry and Jo.
Last Thursday I hiked to Iroquois Peak.
Leaving from from the Adirondack Log trailhead just before 7:00 AM, I stop at the McIntyre Brook waterfall at 8:21 AM, pass over Algonquin at 9:55 and reach the summit of Iroquois just before 11.
While enjoying a sandwich on Iroquois I remember back to July of 1975 when I worked as a counselor at Crumhorn Mountain Boy Scout Camp. I taught merit badge classes and lived in a large canvas tent with a wooden floor.
I was a pretty good instructor but what I loved most about that summer was the ceremony we held every Friday night to recognize scouts selected for the honor of joining the Order of the Arrow. It began just after dark in the middle of Lake Crumhorn where about twenty of us waited in the camp’s fleet of canoes. When the scout troops were all assembled in front of the mess hall, we lit torches made with strips of old tent canvas dipped in Kerosene and paddled to shore.
For the next forty minutes we told the legend of the Lenni-Lenape, a peaceful tribe that inhabited the Delaware River Valley long ago. When neighboring tribes started to raid their hunting grounds Chief Chingachgook asked “Who will go to the villages of the Delaware and warn them of the danger that threatens?” No one stepped forward except his son Uncas who volunteered and ran from village to village to provide the warning and recruit others who would volunteer their service for the good of the Lenni-Lenape.
In our ceremony Dave Jones played Chingachgook. I was Meteu, the medicine man, and Eddie Frazier played Uncas. I opened the ceremony by dancing around the council fire, pausing four times to chant a Lennai-Lenape blessing while shaking the large rattles I carried. Dave recited the legend of the Lenni-Lenape and then Eddie sprinted past the gathered campers tapping the new recruits on the chest as Uncas had done when he travelled from village to village to gather volunteers.
Try as I might I cannot remember the words to the songs we sang on those Friday evenings long ago other than the opening line Dave sang after I finished the blessing. I leave Iroquois singing it over and over again hoping that the rest of the words will eventually come to me.
They do not, but I smile anyways remembering that amazing summer in 1975 when I played a medicine man who danced around a council fire.
My hike to Table Top and Phelps starts later than usual and I don’t depart from the Adirondack Loj trailhead until 8:49 AM. I cross below Marcy Dam at 9:38 and follow the blue trail as it climbs along Phelps Brook before veering south towards Mount Marcy. My plan today is to hike to Table Top Mountain and then climb Phelps Mountain on the way back to the trailhead.
It is hot and humid and I stop at the second to last crossing of the brook to refill my water bottles. A father and a son pass by me as I sit on a rock waiting for the Steri Pen to finish. We exchange hellos and they continue up the blue trail. The boy is a chatter box and appears to be about ten years old. His father is quiet. They are well prepared for the hike carrying day packs and wearing well-worn ankle high boots. I wait a while longer to give them space before rejoining the trail.
I pass the start of the trail to Phelps at 10:15, reach the start of the trail to Table Top at 10:57 and begin the steady climb to the summit. As the trail steepens I narrow the gap and can now hear bits of their conversation. The boy wants to know how much farther is left to climb. The father does not answer at first, perhaps realizing that with lots of climbing yet to do no prediction will satisfy the boy. When pressed, he finally replies, “I don’t know, but we sure have hiked a long way.”
I hear this exchange several more times as they continue the climb and think that there is no better answer to the boy’s question. When I reach the summit they are having lunch on a rock ledge. The father identifies by name the peaks that are spread out before them and the son asks about the trails to each and the father shares his memories from having climbed them in year’s past. After they leave I finish my sandwich as a storm gathers around Mount Marcy.
I start the climb to the Phelps summit at 1:25 PM. This trail is much harder than the trail to Table Top and I have to stop several times to catch my breath. I climb a section assuming that I have reached the top only to find that the trail heads in another direction and starts climbing again.
I get discouraged and want to check the map to figure out just how much more is left to climb. Instead I remember the father’s answer to his son and choose not to worry about what lies ahead but rather to be proud of what I have accomplished thus far.
One of the reference books I rely on to plan my hikes is the 14th edition of the Adirondack Mountain Club’s “High Peaks Trails” (2012), edited by Tony Goodwin and David Thomas-Train.
Here is what the that book says about Esther Mountain, the peak I climbed on Wednesday:
This most northern of the major Adirondack peaks is named for Esther McComb. In 1839 at the age of 15, while trying to climb Whiteface Mountain from the north, she became lost and made of the first recorded ascent of this mountain instead. The Adirondack Forty-Sixers placed a tablet to her memory on the summit in 1939.
I decide to start from the trailhead just of route 86 after it crosses the West Branch of the Ausable River. I start at 7:00 AM by following the trail to Marble Mountain, much of which can be used by mountain bikes. There are no particularly difficult parts on the hike, just a steady climb. I have the trail to myself and reach the top of Marble Mountain at 8:25 and head southwest on the trail that leads to Whiteface Mountain. Soon I hear snippets of a conversation and realize that a couple is behind me, having started from a different trailhead. I reach the Esther Mountain trail junction at 9:33, pass over Lookout Mountain at 9:44 and am enjoying my sandwich on Esther when the couple finally catch up.
We exchange hellos. They are from Connecticut and are surprised to hear that I regularly drive to Lake Placid from Baltimore. We gather around the plaque and compare notes about Esther McComb. My story is that she got lost trying to climb Whiteface. Her story is that Esther was never found. His has a happier ending; she was lost while trying to find her father who was surveying Whiteface but he rescued her. I like his story best.
I am amazed at the possibility of being lost on this mountain. It is desolate at the top of the peak. I have no idea what the forests here were like in 1839, but today they are impassable. Every inch is covered by the boughs of pine trees and the trail is very narrow and nearly overgrown. It is cold and very windy. A terrifying place even with a well-defined trail, a compass and a map.
The hike down is easy and I am off the trail by 1:10 PM,
When I get back to the house I am intrigued about the story of Esther McComb and consult another reference book on my crowded bookshelf, “Heaven Up-h’isted-ness! The History of the Adirondack Forty-Sixers and the High Peaks of the Adirondacks” (2011). Starting at page 557, Tim Tefft recounts the various legends surrounding the naming of Esther Mountain and then explains, relying on the research of Sandra Weber in “The Lure of Esther Mountain, Matriarch of the Adirondack High Peaks” (1995), that Esther McComb probably never existed
None of the information uncovered by Sandra Weber was available in 1939 when Grace Hudawalski, for whom Grace Peak is named, and her husband decided to organize a celebration to commemorate the one hundred year anniversary of the legendary ascent with a plaque placed at the summit in Esther’s honor.
And although it turns out that some to the information set in stone at the summit is probably not accurate, there’s an even better ending to this story. As Tim Tefft explains:
For many years, at her summer home near Adirondack on Schroon Lake, Grace Hudowalski had on her porch a summit register canister which had once been fastened to a tree at the top of Esther. Esther Mountain meant a lot to her. After reading Russell Carson’s “Peaks and People” and having determined that she would climb the 46 peaks, Grace decided that Esther Mountain would be her finishing peak. Thus it was that she became 46er #9 on Esther Mountain on August 26, 1937. She was the first woman to complete the 46 and the first 46er to finish on Esther. She championed and celebrated Esther McComb….but is possible, just possible, that the first woman to climb the mountain “just for fun” was Grace herself.
My plan was to climb three peaks to bring my total to thirteen. I thought I would finish in seven hours. Ten hours later I still had a few miles to go.
I started at the Garden trailhead and decided to take the Southside Trail ignoring the signs warning that it had been abandoned.
The trail is an old forest road that for the most part is in remarkably good shape.
But then it disappears, having been violently washed away and into the Johns Brook.
The trail steepens after crossing Wolf Jaw Brook and I reach the Wolf Jaw Notch just before ten o’clock. I decide to turn right and head first to Upper Wolf Jaw Mountain. I am hiking alone today and am cautious at every tricky part. Others are not. I am passed by a young man running his way to the summit and I meet other groups heading up and down the trail at paces much quicker than mine.
I carry two forms of emergency communication, an ACR personal locator beacon and a signaling mirror that is a hold over from my days as a Boy Scout. It is doubtful that the mirror will be of much use in an emergency given the dense tree cover over head but I like having it and knowing how to use it. The locater beacon communicates with satellites. Although it is surprisingly heavy I always bring it because it provides me with the reassurance I need to hike these trails alone.
In my earlier hikes I carried a day’s supply of water in a Camelback bladder. Now I bring two water bottles, a filter and a UV water purifier and drink water from the streams and brooks I pass along the way.
There are two peaks on Upper Wolf Jaw Mountain, I reach the highest one at 10:56. It takes me another hour to reach Armstrong Mountain. I stop for just a minute and turn back, recrossing Upper Wolf Jaw on my way back down to the notch. I am very tired when I start the climb up Lower Wolf Jaw Mountain. I reach its summit at just before two o’clock and stop to enjoy my last sandwich.
Peering across the valley I spot Big Slide Mountain and remember fondly my hike there with two friends last Labor Day weekend and how we sat eating lunch staring at the mountaintop where I am now.
During that hike we came upon a young deer just as we entered the trail. I think I may have met her again today.
The planned hike was an ambitious one. Meet for coffee at 7:00, reach the trailhead by 7:30, follow an unmarked trail to the start of the Dix Mountain Range and hike to four of the high peaks before returning to Round Pond. The hike would cover nearly sixteen miles, the first seven of which were along unmarked paths to the first peak.
Her name is Grace and it fits her perfectly. She is simple, elegant and set apart from the other four in the range. She is hard to reach because the path is not that obvious and the several crossings of the South Fork of the Boquet River are hard to find. When you get closer to her the trail improves but then gets very steep.
The view from the summit is breathtaking and we sit silently eating sandwiches and surveying the three remaining peaks we had hoped to reach. They are too far away and separated by valleys that are much deeper than we expect. It has taken too long to get here and there is not enough time left to complete this journey. We decide to head back the way we came and to leave the remaining three for another day.
It is beautiful here and I really do not want to leave. I try to convince myself that I will visit Grace again, but I know it will likely not happen. She stands alone, away from the others and no longer on the way to anything else on my list. I regret this deeply because I have loved this hike more than any of the others I have taken.
I needed a backpacker’s trowel but there were none at Eastern Mountain Sports. They suggested that I try a hardware store. Trips to the two located in Lake Placid did not turn up the trowel I needed. Almost as an afterthought I stopped into High Peaks Cyclery. Sixty minutes and $126.50 later I left with a new map, first aid kit, whistle, two books and the $1.99 trowel that had brought me there in the first place.
While browsing the shelves of camping equipment I met the owner, Brian Delaney. He and his family have been outfitting hikers and guiding trips into the Adirondack wilderness for the last twenty-eight years. He invited me to sit with him at his map table and after making sure that I had every item on his list of the “Ten Essentials” for outdoor survival he asked me what I had in mind.
I told him I wanted to hike through Avalanche Pass and climb one of the 46 high peaks. He suggested Mount Colden and marked out a course with a yellow highlighter on the new map he had just sold me.
I awoke before dawn the next morning and arrived at the Meadow Lane trailhead at 6:00 AM. From here I followed an abandoned truck road to Marcy Dam, 2.7 miles away.
Mount Colden rises from the left behind what is left of the dam. Its distinguishing feature is the pointed false summit in the foreground.
There are two approaches to top of the mountain. The more popular trail approaches from the false summit side with a steady, gradual climb. At Brian’s suggestion I take the trail from the back side which is steeper but affords spectacular views of the MacIntyre Mountain Range.
To reach this trail I first hike to Avalanche Lake and then on to Lake Colden. The mountains rise quickly on each side of Avalanche Lake and the trail is dotted with ladders, bridges and even cat walks built into several rock faces along the way.
Lake Colden is much wider and I take the trail down the east side. I focus too much on the ladders and cat walks and miss the intersection of the trail to Mount Colden. After backtracking a bit I reach the summit just before noon.
My nephew Tommy lives in the house where my father died. He sleeps in the room I shared with his father before I moved a bed and some other furniture to the shed next to the garage. In a week he will graduate from Sidney Senior High School, thirty-seven years after I received my diploma from the same school.
This weekend Tommy brought three of his friends to Lake Placid to celebrate their graduation and to hike with me to Algonquin Peak and Wright Peak.
We arrived at the trailhead before 8:00 AM and took our first rest break as we crossed below the waterfall on MacIntyre Creek. We hiked quickly and were the first group to make it to the summit of Algonquin today.
The summit was encased in fog and the wind was strong and very cold. We finished our lunches quickly and headed back down to pick up the trail to Wright Peak. It was still foggy when we reached the top but we stayed long enough to watch the fog finally lift, revealing a magnificent view of the peak we had just climbed.
As I walked down the trail by myself it occurred to me that the town where we all grew up has changed drastically since the day I received my diploma. The factory that first made Magnetos for the Army Air Corps during World War Two and later important components used in the Apollo lunar missions is nothing like it was in the 70s, having lost most of its manufacturing jobs when they were moved to Jacksonville, Florida. The movie theatre in the center of downtown closed years ago and the roller rink recently burned to the ground. The village’s oldest houses along River and Bridge streets were devastated by back to back floods and may need to be torn down. The football team used to have to play all of its games on the road because the field didn’t drain right. Even the traffic signal on Main Street has stopped working.
And yet somehow despite all this my home town has survived and still remains a great place to make friends who will last a lifetime. And for Tommy, Brandon, Nick and Kyle that is more than enough.
On July 4, 1963, forty-five canoes raced seventy miles from the headwaters of the Susquehanna River to Bainbridge, New York. The winning canoe crossed the finish line in 11 hours and 45 minutes. The same race has been held every Memorial Day since then and the race record has steadily improved to where it stands today at 6 hours, 34 minutes and 34 seconds.
I participated in shorter races held over the annual canoe regatta weekend while growing up in Sidney. I even won a trophy as a member of a winning Boy Scout relay team. I shared my first can of Genesee beer with Tim Barnes after our Grand Prix relay team came in last place four weeks before we graduated from high school in 1978.
Thirty-seven years and one day after that defeat I was back. This time to compete in the 70 mile endurance race with my nephew Alex.
Our day starts at 6:00 AM on the southern shore of Otsego Lake. We arrive early and leave our canoe near the base of the Indian Hunter statue that originally stood on the site of James Fenimore Cooper’s home until it was moved to the Lakefront Park in 1940.
Leaving the starting line, we race out into the lake to a buoy and then turn back to where the Susquehanna River begins. We are overly cautious at the start and are one of the last canoes to leave the lake. The river is narrow, peaceful and beautiful as it passes through Cooperstown.
We carry the canoe around a small dam near Bassett Hospital without any trouble and begin the twenty-five mile stretch that will take us to a second portage around Collier’s Dam. As we head out of Cooperstown the river becomes more challenging, with fallen trees and dangling branches forming obstacles at many of the bends in the river.
We do well at first but eventually capsize after being pushed hard into a half sunken log. The water is cold but the life jackets keep us on the surface. Alex is thrown clear but I struggle a bit to free my left foot that has become wedged below the canoe’s rear seat. The water is flowing fast and we fight to pull the canoe toward the right bank of the river. We stand too soon to try to empty the canoe in swift water. I realize the mistake and tell Alex to float further downstream, remembering the rhyme a Shenandoah river guide drilled into me during an earlier whitewater canoe trip, “nose and toes to the sky, keep you alive.”
We reach calm water, empty the boat and retrieve a bottle of Gatorade and our paddles as they float by. As I climb back into the canoe I realize that this is not like any other endurance race I have ever entered.
In those other races the courses were safe and welcoming. When I ran a marathon, the roads were cleared of traffic and there was food and water at every mile. There were even rock and roll bands playing along the route. The Lake Placid Iron Man course was in perfect condition. The swim course was marked with eight foot high buoys and an underwater cable. The road where we bicycled was re-paved and cleaned with street sweepers before the race began. State Troopers blocked every intersection to keep the course free of trucks and cars. There was even a carpet that ran from the beach to the changing tents a quarter-mile away that made for a comfortable run even in bare feet.
This course is different. You race the river as it presents itself to you. There has been no effort to remove even the most dangerous obstacles or to add water with dam releases. No effort to widen or groom the portage trails to make it easier to carry your canoes around the three dams along the way. There are no aid stations along the course and certainly no rock bands. You bring your own food and drink and are resupplied by friends and family who wait for you on muddy river banks along the way.
Today the river hates us and is full of spiteful contradictions. In one stretch it is too fast, hurtling us towards branches and boulders. In another it is at a standstill. We paddle through empty farmland in blistering sun and then duck below branches overhanging the river as it passes through an overgrown forest. We canoe in deep water and then round a corner and find ourselves scraping along the bottom. It is wide when there is no one around us and much too narrow when other boats need to pass us. No matter which way we turn, we are always in a head wind. At one point the wind blows so strong the river reverses its direction.
The day is long and it saps our spirit. Our pace decreases and we end our thirteenth hour just before reaching the finish line. We float to the dock, climb from our boat and shake hands. There are no massage therapists waiting to rub the knots out of my back. Instead, I stretch out on the grass and watch as the last parts of a Ferris Wheel are disconnected and loaded onto a truck.
Alex has two brothers who also want to complete this race and I know I will be back again.
This river hates you but you love her anyway.
Anna Elizabeth Hubert was born on August 11, 1914, in Newark, New Jersey and died on August 27, 1956, in Saranac Lake, New York. She was my grandmother. She had two brothers, John and Edward, and one daughter, Mary Ann, who was my mother.
Anna worked in a hospital and contracted Tuberculosis, which is how she ended up in Saranac Lake where she received treatment at Trudeau’s sanatorium. She was in Saranac Lake on November 18, 1942, when she received a telegram from her husband, Edward McGrath, who was on a layover in England before heading home on the troop transport SS Coamo. His message to her was short but very sweet,
ALL WELL AND SAFE MY THOUGHTS ARE WITH YOU FONDEST LOVE DARLING
She was still in Saranac Lake when she learned that his ship had been lost at sea; when Army Chief of Staff General Marshall sent her official condolences; and also on December 15, 1943, when Secretary of War Henry Stimson wrote advising her that a Purple Heart had been awarded posthumously to her husband, explaining:
The medal, which you will receive shortly, is of slight intrinsic value, but rich with the tradition for which Americans are so gallantly giving their lives. The Father of our country, whose profile and coat of arms adorn the medal, speaks from across the centuries to the men who fight today for the proud freedom he founded.
And she was still in Saranac Lake on November 23, 1948, when a letter came confirming that my grandfather died when a German U-Boat torpedoed the Coamo.
While my grandmother was dealing with her disease and the loss of her husband, my mother was in Islip Terrace being raised by her grandmother, Katherina Hubert, and her uncles, John and Ed. They also served during the war and John would return home seriously injured, walking with a limp and unable to use his left arm and hand.
My grandmother died before I was born, but John and Ed and their children and grandchildren were an important part of our family. In the late 60’s and early 70’s we spent our summer vacations visiting John and Ed in Islip Terrace. Some of the best times we had during those visits were trips to John’s beach house in Fire Island Pines, which we reached by taking the Sayville Ferry. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, we actually witnessed first hand the conversion of the Pines from a place with a sign that proclaimed “Welcome to Fire Island Pines — A Family Community” into the much more sexually liberated, tolerant and diverse community it is today.
There were no cars on Fire Island because there were no roads. Instead there were only boardwalks and everyone used red Radio Flyer wagons to carry groceries and beach chairs and towels. We were often joined by John’s grandchildren and together the seven of us would fish for eels off the harbor dock or wade into the Great South Bay and shuffle our feet to find clams, which my dad would steam for dinner. I learned to body surf on the Atlantic side of the island and first read about the adventures of Ian Fleming’s James Bond from paperbacks I found on the bookshelves that lined the walls of the beach house.
We were there in the summer of 1968 shortly after the musical “Hair” opened on Broadway and also in the summer of 1969 when Oliver’s rendition of Good Morning Starshine became a hit. Sometime after that a decision was made to play the song over the loud speakers set up around the harbor every morning at 7:00 AM.
John’s house was close to the harbor and that song served as our alarm clock, welcoming us each morning to the start of another amazing day on Fire Island with my mother and her Uncle John.
On July 27, 2014, just before sunset, I finish the marathon portion of the Lake Placid Iron Man and jog around the Olympic Ice Skating Oval to the finish line. The oval is bare concrete during the Iron Man and lined with friends and family waiting to celebrate the finish of the racers they have come to see. I jog easily and smile when I hear Abby cheer “Go Dad!”
Since then I have returned to Lake Placid whenever I get the chance, sometimes to hike the high peaks but more recently to enjoy the winter weather and especially to skate around this oval, now covered with ice.
It is cold tonight and I have the rink to myself. Eric Heiden won five gold medals here during the 1980 Olympics and set the world record during the 10,000 meter race. As I circle the infield I remember when I first learned to skate ten years before those races on a man-made ice rink set up in the village where I grew up. Years later I would spend Wednesday afternoons watching Abby learn to skate in Baltimore and on winter Fridays we would leave from school and skate together at a temporary rink set up next to the Inner Harbor. We haven’t skated together in years and in a matter weeks she will graduate from college and move on to new and greater adventures.
Tonight I stay longer than I had planned and cross the finish line 28 times before leaving. Each time I do, I think of how proud I am of the person my daughter has become.
Today I climbed Giant Mountain. At 4627 feet it is the twelfth highest of the forty-six high peaks. I take the Roaring Brook Trail approach which is 3.6 miles to the summit with an ascent of 3375 feet.
It is just below freezing when I start and I wear the winter hiking clothes I bought yesterday. My hiking shoes are heavier today with spikes attached.
I make a quick detour to visit the Roaring Brook Falls before rejoining the trail to the summit.
It starts to snow and soon the trail is covered with a light dusting that tells me that no one else has passed this way this morning. I pause occasionally to take pictures and make steady progress up the trail.
I do not see another person until I am nearly to the top when I step aside to let a young couple come down a rock face from above. They are returning from having spent the night at the lean-to on the far side of the mountain with gear they rented for the weekend. They do not have spikes on their boots and it is too slippery for them to walk on this part of the trail. Instead, they sit and slide down the rock together, smiling and laughing the whole way down.
I have the summit to myself. It is beautiful but cold so I do not stay long. On the way down I pause at the rock with the side by side slide marks and smile remembering how two people, clearly in love with each other, spent a few wonderful moments together in a wonderful place.
In early June, I purchased a new bike to use during the 2014 Lake Placid Iron Man and spent the last weeks of my training practicing on it, mostly while circling Lake Montebello hundreds of time. I rode it on the course once before the race, just before the road to Keene was re-paved. It handled well during the ride but I felt uncomfortable when riding in an aerodynamic position, especially down the steep hill leaving Lake Placid. My center of gravity seemed too high and way too far forward and I felt that the slightest mistake would send me tumbling to the ground.
The days leading up to the race were beautiful. An easy run on Thursday was followed by a short bike ride on Friday in perfect weather. A flat rear tire greeted me when I brought the bike out the basement door on Saturday morning. There was no clear puncture and although I thought I found a small piece of glass poking through the tire, I was not sure I had found the source of the leak before replacing the tube
I woke early on race day and walked to the transition area with my brother and a bike pump fearing that the tire would be flat again. It was pretty cold but the sky was clearing and I was optimistic that the predicted rain might not actually appear. The rear tire was fine.
I was at the beach early, trying to get towards the front at the start but ultimately only made it to the fourth wave. I did not wear a wetsuit and kept my sweatshirt and sweatpants on until the last-minute when I left them, never to be seen again, neatly folded next to a trash can.
I stayed far left during the swim and swam by the wet-suited competitors bunched tightly and colliding with each other while following the cable that connected the course buoys. It started to rain within the first 800 meters and with one half mile left the thunder-storm hit. I watched the lightning flashes as I breathed to the right side and the short delay before the thunder-claps told me the storm was moving towards us very quickly. I swam as fast as I could to get back to the finish of the swim course and waved to Kathy and Abby as I ran up the chute leading from the shore.
I spent a long time transitioning to the bike portion of the race. It was raining hard and the thunder-storm was in full force. I was soaked even before I mounted my bike. None of us were in a hurry during the fourteen mile ride down to Keene in the pouring rain. Once we reached the bottom the rain eased and the rest of the ride went by without incident.
I felt good at the start of the run. I was on schedule and certain that I could finish with time to spare. I ran for five minutes and then walked for thirty-seconds, guided by a Garmin watch that beeped on cue. I repeated that cycle fifty-nine times before crossing the finish line.
During the run I passed by a memorial to the 10th Mountain Division next to a small stream. I promised myself that someday I would come back and visit it for a while.
Which is what I did today.
I never see the dawn that I don’t say to myself perhaps.
John Dos Passos, author Manhattan Transfer (1925)
In the summer of 1972, I pulled on a green bathing suit, jumped into Lake Crumhorn and breaststroked behind a wooden rowboat for forty-five minutes to earn my Mile Swim Badge from the Boy Scouts of America. I would not participate in an open water swim again until September 19, 2010, when I swam three miles as part of Baltimore’s inaugural Swim Across America. Since then I have swum past the Hudson River’s Little Red Lighthouse three times, across the Chesapeake Bay and the Potomac River at its widest point, up and down the Chester, Nanticoke and Patapsco Rivers and along the Chicago skyline in Lake Michigan and the Atlantic shoreline in Ocean City. At each of these swims I paid the modest entry fee and sometimes a small donation, but never really focused on using the swims to raise money to help others.
During this year’s Lighthouse swim I came to really appreciate the amazing friendships that I have formed through open water swimming. It occurred to me that without the support of my friends who have trained, travelled and competed with me I would never have accomplished any of this. As I finished the swim and climbed the stairs out of the Hudson I decided to form a team for next year’s relay race around Manhattan and to use the event to raise money for Swim Free, a charity that funds learn-to-swim programs at community pools in underserved areas.
My relay-mates are amazing people. Tim, our captain, was born on April 1st in the bathroom of the house where his parents still live. That one sentence explains a lot about Tim. He is the type of guy who can’t wait to get started, whether on the deck before a routine practice or on the shore at the start of a long open water swim. “Let’s do this,” he’ll proclaim and then we are off and swimming. Tim out in front and the rest of us trailing behind. At the end of the swim, his is the first face you will see, smiling and offering encouragement as the rest of us finish. Tim trains with passion and the example he sets has inspired me to work hard and follow him, first up the Hudson River and then on a seven and one-half mile swim across the Potomac and at many more swims since then. Tim taught me to believe in myself as a swimmer and that confidence has made all the difference.
I met Claudia for the first time early on the Sunday morning following my first Lighthouse swim. I had stayed in New York too long and had a long drive to get back to Baltimore in time for its third Swim Across America event. I showed up at the swim club parking lot after only two hours of sleep, threw her the keys to my car and asked her to drive. She not only drove me to the swim and back that day, she also swam next to me for three miles, stroke for stroke to make sure I was okay. Since then she has completed the Ocean City, Purple and Potomac River swims and a 70.3 mile triathlon. She is my favorite training partner and a wonderful and caring person with an infectious smile.
Sandra and I became friends on a subway ride from Dykman Street to SoHo when she tagged along with our group first to a nice bar at the southern tip of Manhattan, then back towards the Empire State Building and on to the 24-hour McDonald’s on 33rd and Seventh Avenue. There is nothing quite so delicious as chicken McNuggets and french fries to cap off a night out after a hard swim. Sandra spends her summers training in the Atlantic near Sandy Hook with the “Sunrise Crew” who can be found in the ocean or nearby river at 5:30 AM on every Tuesday and Thursday between June and October. When she is not busy raising her two young children, Sandra regularly swims in ocean mile races while still finding time to enjoy a 5k swim on most summer weekends.
Tim is well-known to NYC Swim, having consistently finished near the top during the last three Lighthouse swims. I, on the other hand, am a middle of the pack guy at best. Sandra has also completed three Lighthouse swims and although Claudia has not yet participated in a NYC Swim event she too is a very accomplished open water swimmer. Tim and Sandra aspire to solo swims around Manhattan, which I know they will one day accomplish. My dream is to spend a month one summer swimming as much of the Hudson as possible and I hope to convince Claudia, Tim and Sandra to swim parts of it with me.
Tim often mentions to me that he has met his best friends through swimming. I could not agree more. I am amazed at how swimming has brought Tim, Claudia and Sandra into my life. We are from different parts of the country and come from different backgrounds. If you drew a straight line connecting the places where we were born it would stretch 3,333 miles. But somehow through a maze of circumstances, opportunities and life choices we have intersected and become friends. That is what swimming has done for me and what it can do for others.
If fortunate enough to be selected for this year’s race our team will train hard and give the swim our maximum effort. And when the four of us cross the finish line together we will each be the better for our efforts, having given back a little to the sport that has given us so much.
There comes a time in life when you don’t look forward to birthdays. It’s like reading a good book. At the beginning you love everything you experience with each turning page and can never imagine that the story will end. As you reach the last pages you read each one with both excitement to see how the story will end and with regret realizing that this amazing story you have been reading is almost over and that once you have read the last page there will be no going back.
Yesterday was my birthday and I decided that today would be the day I would hike to Mt. Marcy, the highest point in New York State. The mountain is named for New York Governor William L. Marcy, who authorized the survey that originally explored the area. Its first recorded ascent was on August 5, 1837, by a large party led by Ebenezer Emmons who were looking for the source of the East Fork of the Hudson River which they decided was Lake Tear of the Clouds, located just below Mt. Marcy.
I start my hike at 6:30 AM and will spend the next eleven hours hiking seventeen miles.
I spend most of the hike thinking about Saturday when I watched my nephew play in the homecoming football game. I met a friend from high school there and we drank coffee while sitting on the aluminum stands and telling each other about our respective daughters, each now much older than we were when we last spent as much time together as we did on Saturday. I remember fondly, but do not mention, the times we spent together floating down the Unadilla River in inner tubes and how she was the first person with whom I actually shared a kiss. Instead we talk about friends who have died and being in Explorer Scouts together and she laughs while telling me that her daughter loves to wear the tee-shirt that served as our uniform in 1977. When I say goodbye to her I realize that I had not seen her in over ten years and am a bit sad wondering how many more years will pass before I see her again.
I summit Marcy at 10:11 AM and after a short stop continue down its other side to Lake Tear in the Clouds.
The lake is clear and there are stones lining the bottom at the mouth where it empties into the stream that leads to the Hudson River. I have not seen a soul all morning and decide to go for a swim. I leave my clothes on a warm rock and wade out a ways. I consider swimming across the lake and back but the water is a bit too cold so after a few strokes I scamper back to the warmth of my flannel shirt and wool sweater.
After the swim I climb Gray Peak, another of the 46, and then decide to head back to Marcy and leave nearby Mount Skylight for another hike.
I have brought with me a molasses cookie and a single candle to celebrate my birthday. I ponder a while, taking in the view of the valleys and mountain ranges below me. I think about all that I have accomplished since my last birthday and decide not to light the candle. While I don’t know how many more pages are left before my book will end, on this day and at this moment I can think of nothing better to wish for than to be exactly where I am, sitting on top of New York eating a molasses cookie with hair still a little wet.
My mother spent her high school years in Saranac Lake while her mother, a nurse who treated tuberculosis patients, attempted to recover from the same disease. She told me stories of how she and her classmates would take a motor boat from Lower Saranac through the Upper Lock and into Middle Saranac Lake. I’d often wanted to visit that lock and repeat that trip and yesterday I got my chance.
We left the Second Pond boat launch at noon, traveling in a canoe and a kayak. A light rain fell most of the day and there was a strong headwind at the start of the trip. We traveled upstream to the end of Lower Saranac and entered the channel connecting the two lakes. Halfway through we came upon the Upper Lock and visited with the lock keeper as she closed the downstream gates behind us and then opened the upstream wickets causing the water level to rise the two feet necessary to bypass the rapids on the other side of the island.
When we reached Upper Saranac, we stopped for lunch at the first island we came to and then decided to head back. We spent some more time visiting with the lock keeper on the return trip. She explained that the lock had been in place for nearly 100 years with its last major upgrade in the 1980s. On a busy day she will operate the lock more than 100 times. As the water drained to lower us to the exit, she explained that some canoeists actually run the rapids rather than use the lock.
When the downstream gate opened, we paddled around the island and after a short consultation decided to make one more pass through the lock. The keeper shook her head when we passed into the downstream gate and disclaimed any responsibility for damage or injury as the water filled the lock. When the gate opened we turned left, entered the channel and several exhilarating seconds later shot out the end of the rapids and rejoined the calmer waters.
As we paddled away I wished I had visited the lock earlier in my life and been able to share this story with my mother.
The two of us left Baltimore early Friday and had just crossed into Pennsylvania when my phone alerted with a text message. A quick stop was followed by a quick phone call and a quick change of plans. We circled back and after a short stop for coffee the three of us were back on our way to the Baseball Hall of Fame and then on to Lake Placid.
The next morning we started the hike a bit later than planned. The parking lot at The Garden trailhead was full so we parked at Marcy Field, five miles away, and took the local bus to our starting point. The driver stressed that the last bus back would leave at 7:00 PM, “sharp ’cause I’m not waiting.”
We signed the trail register and started our hike to Big Slide by way of The Brothers. We would hike nearly ten miles before the day was finished, ascending 2800 feet to the summit of Big Slide, which at 4,290 feet is 27th in the order of height of the 46 high peaks I hope to climb over the next four years.
The weather was perfect and everything we saw was beautiful. We stopped two hundred yards from the trailhead to watch a young deer as she slowly crossed the trail in front of us. We paused at every overlook, sometimes to enjoy a sandwich, others to share cheese and apples, and still others just for quiet contemplation. We taught her how to use a compass and how to orient a map. She picked most of the routes up the rocks and we followed.
We met interesting people along the trails and at the overlooks. A couple from Montreal was just finishing a hot lunch and shared stories of their other hikes together. As we approached the summit, we paused to let a family pass us by, the pre-teen boys descending with abandon and using saplings to break their falls and slow their descents. Their sisters were a little older, but just as courageous. At the summit it seemed that everyone there had some connection or another to Indiana.
We finished the food we brought, took some pictures and headed back by way of a trail along Slide Mountain Brook which we crisscrossed several times hopping from rock to rock to keep dry.
With four miles left we heard the same laughter and shouting we had heard earlier and knew we were coming upon the boys and girls we had watched scamper down from the summit a few hours before. They had found a natural water slide and were taking turns gliding along its moss-covered rocks into the pool of very cold water at its bottom. We were tired and very short on time but stopped anyway. We emptied our pockets, placed our packs in a dry place and for fifteen minutes became young again.
We hustled back to the trailhead and made it in time for the last shuttle bus. We had spent the day to the fullest, not compelled to rush away from the beauty we were experiencing and had even played in a water slide and still made it back in time.
Which goes to show that sometimes you just need to forget about the schedule, take time to enjoy beauty and turn around for a friend.
My brother lives in the house where I grew up and when we were younger we used to throw the football to each other along the driveway that cuts through the back yard.
I always wanted to play football but never was good enough. When I played catch with others I dropped more passes than I caught. But when the two of us played along that driveway it was different. He knew just the right touch to apply to the ball and whatever he threw to me I could catch. We would run imaginary pass plays from the time we finished our homework until our mother called us in for dinner.
He would later play high school football after I left for college and I often wondered what it would have been like, had there not been a difference in age and in skill, to have played as brothers on the same football team.
Last week his two oldest sons did just that, starting at quarterback and receiver. I was unable to make it to the game but listened to the local radio station’s play-by-play over the Internet while in Chicago. I marveled while listening at how well Tommy and Alex seemed to play together. Although constantly under pressure and close to being sacked, Tommy always seemed to get the pass off in time and to find a wide open Alex for a completion and good gain. Their team lost that night but not before Tommy set a new school record for passes attempted. Alex caught 8 of those passes for 80 yards, one reception short of another school record.
Alex played both offense and defense and late in the third quarter was slow getting up from the turf after blocking a pass thrown into the end zone. I would learn later that Alex injured his kidney during that play and would spend the next several days recovering from surgery in the hospital. He is fine now and expected to make a full recovery but will not play football again this season.
I am typing this while seated at the kitchen table in the house where I grew up. Tommy has already left and in a little while Alex and I will make our way to the field and watch this year’s Homecoming game from the stands. And while I regret that I never got to see Alex and Tommy play together, I know that Tommy will play his heart out tonight, that Alex has many great games ahead of him and that they will always have the driveway.
It’s 56° and there’s a light rain as I drive from Lake Placid into the Keene Valley to begin today’s hike to Porter and Cascade Mountains, two of the forty-six high peaks I hope to summit in the next four years. The conditions are not great but if I’m going to complete this journey in time for the 100th Anniversary of the founding of the 46ers I’m going to need to hike in all conditions.
I have probably over-packed for today’s hike, a vestige from my Boy Scout days. I am carrying three liters of water in a Camelback, the pockets of which I have stuffed with a space blanket, emergency sleeping bag, signaling mirror, first aid kit, map, guidebook, flint and a survival knife. I am also carrying two sandwiches, some fruit and the compass pictured above.
I start at 7:20 AM from the Marcy Field parking area and climb first to Blueberry Mountain and then on to Porter and Cascade before returning to the parking lot. I am alone today and will hike for thirteen miles, not seeing another person for eleven of those miles.
The trail to Blueberry Mountain is very steep at the beginning but the mountaintop offers wonderful views of the fog lifting from the valley below. The trail is well-marked with yellow trail markers and stone cairns placed strategically across the rock outcroppings where there are no trees.
While following the line of cairns atop Blueberry Mountain I came upon some stones made into the shape of a heart. The moss growing on the stones tells me they have been here for sometime. As I head on to Porter I wonder about the story behind the heart on top of the mountain and begin thinking about a backpacking trip I took in the Adirondacks with John and Jerry in the late fall of our senior year of high school.
At the time I had a terrible crush on a girl in our class. We’d become friends that summer and spent a wonderful day taking her younger sister on all the amusement rides at that year’s State Fair just before school began. I never mustered the courage to tell her how I felt about her and our relationship never went any further. Just before leaving for the trip I learned that she was going steady with the captain of the basketball team.
I was heartbroken and not very good company to John and Jerry. With John, though, a bad mood never lasts long. While he had no great words of wisdom he just knew how to make you feel better and when we walked out from the woods three days later I was ready to move on from the heartbreak.
Jerry died of cancer at age 41 and I remember how devastated his son JT was at the funeral. Later that spring John organized the first of many annual trips to South Carolina to take JT golfing and visit with Jerry’s parents. Over the years I watched JT grow into the amazing person he is today and marveled again at how John knew how to say and do just the right things to help JT deal with the tragic loss of his father.
As I finish today’s hike I realize that I have never known a more dedicated and caring friend than John. So while I’ll never learn the true story behind the heart made out of stones I came upon in the Adirondacks today, I will choose to remember it as a symbol of the love shown by John to a friend who left us too soon.